Thursday, 28 March 2013

Morito

Tapas holds a special, sentimental place in A and C's hearts. We're definitely not ones to get soppy, but after a nigh on disastrous first date it was during our second meeting at a tapas bar in Covent Garden that we began to bond over our mutual love of Spanish food, language, travel and so on. We're both very fond of tapas, and while we've been with other friends several times, we realised the other week that we'd never actually been back to a tapas bar together since that second date.

C suggested rectifying this with a trip to Morito - the infamous Spanish tapas bar in Exmouth Market, near to A's work in the city, and the so-called 'little sister' of Moro next door. We'd heard excellent things, but with neither of us having never been there before, we decided it was time to try it out.



Morito is one of the many "no bookings" London restaurants - for dinner, anyway. It's an extremely compact space, and gets very popular very quickly in the evenings, so we recommend getting there early if you want to eat at a sensible time - for some perspective, we put our names on the waiting list at about 8pm on a Thursday and got a table around an hour later. It's worth the wait, though, and there are a plethora of good pubs around to have a drink while you wait (strangely, we went back to the pub we first visited on our semi-disastrous first date, so it was an evening full of weird memories).

To summarise, the food at Morito is good - it's very good. C and A have both spent a lot of time in Spain; C in particular, who spent most of her summers there every year while growing up. This means that they know good tapas when they eat it, and they ate it here. The patatas bravas (or "papas bravas" as we affectionately call them) were, for example, absolutely top notch and authentic, from the presentation to the crispy-and-soft textures of the wedges, to the taste of the spicy tang of the sauce. The jamón croquetas were similarly authentic; crunchy and hard on the outside and gooey, soft and warm on the inside: a real treat for the mouth. And the huevos rotos (eggs cooked with peppers, potatoes and chorizo) were bursting with flavour and colour.


It's not just pure Spanish here, though, so don't think you're coming to an upmarket La Tasca; rather, the clue is in the name for Morito, and there are Middle Eastern-inspired dishes cropping up left, right and centre on the menu alongside the more standard Spanish choices. As regular readers will know, this only served to heighten our enthusiasm for the place - try the lamb koftas with harissa and yoghurt or the fattoush salad, for example, to get a taste of the Middle East, Turkey and the Levant injected into the Spanish menu.


Anything you try here will undoubtedly be excellent, but for us there were two absolute stand-out dishes. A's favourite was the scallops in sherry vinegar with butter sauce; no great surprise there, then, as this man could eat scallops all day, every day and still not get enough of them. These scallops were excellently done (even C, who's not a huge scallop fan, had to concede) and the sherry vinegar complemented it wonderfully. C's favourite was the spiced, Middle Eastern-inspired lamb served with herbs, pine nuts, aubergine and pomegranate seeds. The flavours were perfectly balanced and the whole dish was just thoroughly enjoyable and aromatic.

 
We were also pleasantly surprised when the bill came; tapas can be a pricey business, and yet several dishes with a glass of wine and a beer came in at under £50, which we think represents excellent value for money.

If you haven't been to Morito for excellent tapas yet, go. And if you have been - well, go again. We know we certainly will.

Apologies for the iPhone photos - spontaneous visit but too good not to blog!

Monday, 18 March 2013

A & C Cook: Sunday Roast

London's notoriously unpredictable weather has taken a turn for the worse again: while last year mid-March was positively balmy, March 2013 has seen icy winds blowing in from Siberia, causing an unseasonably late chill. While we were looking forward to the spring blossoms and a change in diet, shifting towards lighter fare, we've been forced to continue with the winter favourites for an extra couple of weeks until the weather finally warms up. While we'd normally be halting the Sunday roasts for few months by this point, we decided we'd push the boat out one last time and do one for C's family.


First and foremost, we apologise for the fact that we only have photos of the trimmings and not the main event, but photos were taken in a rush as everybody was keen to chow down. So, back to the roast.


Unfortunately, planning the perfect roast for A, C as well as C's parents and grandparents is quite the challenge. Everybody (quite rightly) has an opinion on the food, but unfortunately for the chefs nobody's opinion is the same. To give some idea of the sort of snags we had to contend with, we have had to take into account the following:
  1. The beef: Still breathing or nuked? We've got the entire range!
  2. The puds: Always do your own (see our earlier post on road-testing the ever-reliable Delia) because the're awesome or just grab them from the shop? 
  3. The roasties: smidgin of olive oil, absolutely go to town on the herbs or something else entirely?
  4. The veg: Brussels sprouts: heaven or hell?
While family members were keen for us to listen to their advise (and we normally happily would), we went our own way on some things. We took a view on the beef and decided, perhaps a little reluctantly, to do the beef well done rather than rare: the thinking being that rare beef lovers would merely complain, whereas those who prefer it well done wouldn't even touch crimson slices of meat. A in particular was most put out, but agreed that in the interests of family unity, singeing the beef was worth it.

However, we ignored advice on other matters: we did our own Yorkshire puddings (using good old Delia!) and slipped some dried rosemary and thyme onto the spuds, along but with Simulated Chicken Fat, which we swapped oil for. This is the secret of every Jewish mother's cupboard, and A always enthuses about it:. it's parve (neither milk nor meat) and so can be used in milky meals while still giving the depth of flavour you'd expect from animal fats. It's incredibly bad for you, so use it sparingly, but it makes the best roast potatoes imaginable when combined with onions, garlic and a sprinkle of herbs. A brought a pot down from North London for the event, explaining that no roast dinner is complete without this stuff. While C was initially skeptical (her roast potatoes are admittedly pretty good already without the stuff), the results convinced her and it's now a staple of the roast dinner. Good thing we don't do them ourselves too often...


We also did some parsnips a similar way: cut into batons, smothered with simulated chicken fat and with a twist of salt, they came out perfectly.

Luckily, the roast was a roaring success: C's family devoured almost everything, with even Nan P (who has a fairly small appetite) coming back for multiple helpings.

We'll do a proper Sunday roast post soon, but for now, let us leave you with the message that you should go out and buy a pot of Simulated Chicken Fat for your roast potatoes now. Seriously.


Friday, 15 March 2013

A Vegemitey big kerfuffle

A (who is the "I" in this post) has a confession to make: I'm a traitor to my nation and indeed to my hemisphere. I like Vegemite. I even prefer it to Marmite. There. I said it, and it feels good to get it off my chest. In a rare opinion piece, I'm going to defend my heretical position in this land of Marmite-eating Poms and immigrant Vegemite eaters.

Clash of the Titans


Don't get me wrong, I am no Marmite hater. When I used to work in France as a student in a residential holiday camp, I wouldn't leave Blighty for the summer without at least one 500g jar of the stuff in tow. The French kids I used to work with wondered why I had my own special Nutella, until some of them tried it, only to have a nasty shock. I'll happily guzzle the stuff given half a chance.

A fresh pot - not for long!


But...if given the choice, I will always go for Vegemite. Ethically, this is difficult to justify: Vegemite has to be flown 10,000 miles across the globe to reach my plate, and consequently it costs a fair whack more than its domestic cousin.

However for me, Vegemite has some distinct advantages. Firstly, there's the consistency. Marmite is kind of runny, like honey. Vegemite has the consistency of margarine, meaning you don't spend ages twiddling the knife as it comes out of the pot or dribbling the stuff all over the sideboard as you smear it all over your toast. It melts pretty much on impact with the bread though, so you're not destroying your soliders as you're buttering them up ready to dip in your soft boiled egg.

A true hero

Then - and this is the deal breaker - there's the flavour. It tastes better. Marmite has kind of sour aftertaste that Vegemite just lacks. It's that final kick that makes all the difference for me. I'm a big fan of sour and bitter flavours, but Marmite has a slightly more raw edge when compared to Marmite. Consequently, I'll reach for the straight sided pot over the bulbous one almost every time.

Breakfast of Champions: Vegemite, boiled egg and a dusting of cayenne pepper


I can take your abuse, Blogosphere UK. Do your worst...

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Back to Georgia (Sort Of): Tbilisi, N7

While travelling around Eastern Turkey last year, we ended up taking a quick detour into Georgia. A visit to the ex-Soviet state can be quite a difficult experience at times (especially if you're travelling there spontaneously without knowledge of Russian or Georgian or even so much as a guidebook or a map), but the food is outstanding, and more than worthy of a few words.

While Georgia may not be known for its food in the West, it has a rich and ancient culinary tradition. It was here, we learned, that grapes were first cultivated and that wine was first produced; a fact not lost on the Georgians, who have turned the toast into an art form. The food, too, is richly varied, though there are underlying themes such as salty white cheese and coriander. It often seems that either one or the other or both is present in every dish (note: don't go to Georgia unless you love coriander. A lot).

Said Georgian Wine


Even with just three days in the country, we ate lots of different things, and had good intentions of posting about them until we got back home to realise that none of our photos had come out. So, six months later, we thought we'd try out a Georgian restaurant here in London, and headed to Tbilisi in N7 (as opposed to Tbilisi in Georgia itself - it'll be a little while until we had back to the country after last time!).

Situated between Holloway Road and Highbury & Islington Tube stations, Tbilisi is a quiet but charming little restaurant serving up really great, authentic Georgian food, and we'd certainly recommend a visit. We started our meal there with a glass of Georgian wine apiece - C went for a glass of the white Ereti or Hereti, a brilliantly well-balanced dry white wine, while A went for a glass of the house red, a smoky earthy and well balanced Georgian wine.

When we were in Georgia itself, our experiences with drinking wine there were quite varied; the most interesting of these being during dinner on the first night in the beach town of Batumi, where we got taken to dinner by two Argentines, a Belorussian and an extremely flamboyant Filipino (how we ended up at dinner with these guys is a story for another time). We ended up in a tiny basement restaurant, and were presented with clay bowls, which A and C of course assumed were for eating out of. Instead, when the wine was presented in a tall, thin, clay flask, A - as he'd unwittingly situated himself at the head of the table - was called upon to be responsible for the wine (always a dangerous suggestion). In Georgia, we were told this meant that he had to share the wine out between every guest's bowl using a certain hand (we forget which), make a speech, and that we all then had to drink in unison. It made for a bizarre but charming experience, and we do admit to being a little bit disappointed when our wine was served up in actual glasses at Tbilisi restaurant here in London.



Onto the food, we browsed the starters and knew exactly what we'd order. The one foodstuff we got to know really well in Georgia was Khachapuri, which is about as ubiquitous in Georgia as Simit is in Turkey: each region has its own variant and almost every cafe serves up this delicious cheesy bread. The Ajarian version, called Acharuli, is eye-shaped, and comes with an egg yolk cracked into the middle, which looks like a big orange pupil. Notwithstanding the slightly odd appearance, Acharuli is absolutely scrumptious; even A, who usually holds back on the cheese due to light lactose intolerance, always attacks the thing with gusto. The saltiness of the cheese is particularly pleasant with the richness of the egg yolk, which is generally cooked to melty perfection with both cheese and egg running all over the place. Heaven. We were pleased to say that the Tbilisi restaurant version was almost every bit as good as the stuff we had in Georgia, although it did use a slightly differnet, less salty cheese, which altered the flavour slightly.



Onto the mains, and we deliberated for quite some time over what to choose. Going back to our meal in Batumi with the motley crew we found there, the food we had was really quite impressive: plates and plates piled high with all sorts of things, roughly announced to us as "meat" or "vegetable", so we had to do a bit of guesswork to ascertain what we were actually eating. One of the best dishes was Ostri - a traditional tomato, beef and potato soup, spiced up with handfuls of coriander and lots of garlic. The dish packed quite some punch, but we all made extremely light work of the enormous bowl our host brought to the table.

The other culinary highlight of our trip to Georgia was Chkhmeruli chicken, a simple but remarkably tasty dish.  This is essentially roast chicken, done in a thin yoghurt sauce, and then flavoured with lashings of garlic and the wonderfully named Khmeli Suneli spice mix. The latter contains a whole variety of exotic flavours imbuing the dish with a flavour all of its own and which is quite difficult to describe. A and C ordered this on their last night without knowing what to expect and were pleasantly surprised when the dish turned up. As with the Ostri, the dish was extremely pungent but delicious, leaving both foodies satisfied with their choice.



So, back to Tbilisi restaurant, and we found that there was neither Ostri not Chkmeruli chicken on the menu, admittedly to our dismay. Still, what we did have was tasty - C went for the Chakapuli, lamb in an aromatic tarragon and white wine sauce and served with lashings of coriander (of course), while A tried the Chanakhi - a spicy lamb and aubergine bake with potato, onions and tomatoes. Both mains came served in bowls with an accompanying small side salad and a big basket of bread (this didn't taste like authentic Georgian bread, sadly, but was very nice all the same).

We were too full for dessert - and anyway, nothing could really parallel the pastries we had in Georgia itself when we wanted something sweet. The apple turnover-like pastries we found for the equivalent of 10p each in a local bakery were absolutely outstanding, C still fantasises about them, in all honesty.

So Georgian food, it turns out, is extremely popular all over the former Soviet bloc - and for good reason: it's brilliant. In fact, Tblisi was full of Russians on romantic dinners the night we visited. If you're not planning a trip to the country any time soon, check out Tbilisi restaurant in N7 instead for a reliable introduction to what the cuisine can offer.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Fire and Stone Tasting Panel

While we might have mentioned our mutual love of Italian food before, we've almost certainly failed to convey just how much C, in particular, loves pizza. She could happily eat the stuff for breakfast, lunch and tea most days and it's one of the few foodstuffs she genuinely never tires of. On a trip to Rome a few years back, her travel companions joked with her that she'd eat pizza for  at least two meals every day of their almost week-long trip - and, with the exception of one particularly good plate of gnocchi, she proved them right (much to their amusement).

When pizza joint Fire and Stone invited Slightly Peckish to be part of their Tasting Panel then, you can imagine that C was more than happy to take them up on their offer. Fire and Stone were revamping their menu with a view to bringing back a few of their iconic pizzas by popular demand, which are currently off the menu. There were a good few contenders for which pizzas should be reinstated, though, and so Fire and Stone invited C, along with some other food bloggers, to taste all the pizzas in the running and choose a top two to appear on the menu nationwide. (Blogging - it's a hard job, sometimes!).



For those uninitiated with Fire and Stone, this is a pizza joint with a difference. A smaller chain, for a start, there are five branches nationwide (three in London, one in Oxford and another in Portsmouth) - but the real difference that separates Fire and Stone from other chains is its pizza toppings. Instead of plain old margherita or a distinctly average pepperoni, here toppings are rather more on the adventurous side: think shredded crispy duck with hoi sin sauce, mozzarella, spring onions and cucumber strips, for example (that's the Peking, in case you're wondering), or chicken tagine, preserved lemons, fresh coriander and coriander yoghurt (the Alexandria). The pizzas are named after places, too, which is another nice touch that appeals to C's travel bug.

Sat in the Covent Garden branch of the restaurant, C and the other bloggers were presented with six different pizzas, which we were asked to taste before ranking 1-6 in order of preference. In all honesty, they were all seriously good - C was very impressed by the flavours, texture and obvious quality of the ingredients in every pizza on offer.



First up was the Canberra: roast chicken breast, garlic and rosemary potatoes, marinated mushrooms, mozzarella, tomato sauce, sour cream and topped with sweet chilli sauce and chives. Put simply, C loved this: it had a brilliant depth of flavour and texture, and she particularly liked the perfectly roasted potatoes (a weird choice on a pizza, admittedly, but it really worked) and the contrast between the sour cream and the chilli sauce. And a score? 9/10.




Next - the Montego Bay: jerk marinated chicken, red onions, jalapenos, mozzarella, BBQ sauce and fresh mango. To be totally honest, C wasn't sure she was going to like this - she's not usually the biggest fan of BBQ sauce (she leaves that to A, who loves the stuff) and she wasn't convinced about sweet mango mixed with jalapenos on a pizza. She was totally wrong - it was great, and particularly the sweet mango mixed with the spice of the BBQ sauce, jerk chicken and the jalapenos. She'd give this 8/10.



Next came the Trinidad and Tobago: spicy pepperoni, fresh red and green chillis, jalapeno peppers, mozzarella and tomato salsa. While this pizza would've been right up A's street (he's a fiend for anything spicy), it was sadly a bit too much for C, who can't really cope with blow-your-brains-out hot. The underlying flavours and textures were great, but again not really for C. The general consensus among the other bloggers too was that this was the most 'standard' pizza on the six-choice menu, and for this reason C couldn't really rate it too highly - only in that, in her opinion, you don't go to Fire and Stone looking for something 'standard', but for something that little bit different. There's no denying that it was a good choice for anyone who likes spice, though, and freshly made with great ingredients as always. 6/10.



Then came the Casablanca: rosemary infused mascarpone cheese sauce, mushrooms in garlic butter, Roquefort blue cheese, mozzarella and topped with toasted walnuts and parsley. It might have been previously mentioned on Slightly Peckish that cheese is one of C's all-time favourite things, and she's got a real soft spot for any kind of blue cheese. The Roquefort worked really well on this pizza, along with the mascarpone, and despite the fact that mushrooms in garlic butter aren't really C's favourite pizza topping she was really very impressed. 7.5/10.



The penultimate choice was the Acapulco: slow cooked ground chilli beef, jalapenos, red onions, mozzarella, tomato sauce and topped with sour cream and guacamole. Another choice that A would've loved, C wasn't expecting to like this one too much (and her palate was still recovering a little from the Trinidad and Tobago!) - but she was very pleasantly surprised. Although not a pizza that perhaps she'd choose herself, this is all down to personal taste, as it was packed full of flavour and the contrast of the chilli beef and jalapenos with the sour cream and guacamole was great. A solid 7/10.



Last was a trip back to Australia with the Melbourne: chunks of brie, roasted butternut squash and red onions, mozzarella, tomato sauce and topped with pumpkin seeds and balsamic oil. Next to camembert, brie is C's all-time favourite cheese, so this making an appearance on a pizza immediately put it up there as one of the best contenders of the evening. Butternut squash on a pizza is certainly an unusual choice, but it worked well, and especially with the brie - this was lovely. 8/10.

With the tasting over, we pondered over our votes while tucking into excellent desserts - C had the excellent cinnamon dough sticks with nutella and toffee (as if she hadn't had enough dough already!) while fellow blogger We The Food Snobs opted for the delicious-looking cookie sandwich.



After much deliberation, C voted - and it's probably no surprise what came top of her list: the Canberra, followed by the Montego Bay (after much deliberation between this and the Melbourne). Results will be out shortly as to which pizzas were voted the most popular by all of us bloggers in attendance, and which will therefore be reinstated on the menu - but it's safe to say that whatever gets picked will be full of flavour, full of texture, made with fresh ingredients and a great choice for an unusual but delicious pizza.

 
Featured Content: A and C did not pay for the Fire and Stone tasting panel experience or the food enjoyed there. A and C enjoyed the Fire and Stone tasting panel experience courtesy of Fire and Stone and did not accept additional payment for this post.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

M's Farewell Cake (or: Blueberry and Lemon Curd Cake)

Our friend M (one of A's friends from his student days, and a different M to aforementioned School Friend M who we dined with at Pig and Butcher the other week) is about to be sent off to Singapore for 6 months for work, and so we took the opportunity to have him and his girlfriend S round for a casual Sunday night dinner before he went.

One thing and the other meant that the weekend had been a bit hectic, and that combined with the fact that the dinner was decided at fairly short notice meant we didn't have time to prepare anything too fancy. We did, however, have a couple of hours before they arrived and ingredients for a cake - and so we decided to try our hand at a Blueberry and Lemon Curd Cake (or, as it shall henceforth be known, M's Farewell Cake).



We took the recipe from BBC Good Food after it caught C's eye - blueberries and lemons being two of her all-time favourite flavours. We also imagined, though, that it was quite inoffensive and would hopefully have quite wide appeal.

Although we'd planned to have time to ice it and pipe 'Farewell M' on the top, unfortunately it ended up taking a little longer than expected to bake and we had to serve it up as it was, with a little icing sugar sprinkled over the top. Having said that, we're pleased to say it got the thumbs up from both M & S (we've decided to go with the initials this way round as opposed to, er, S & M, after much debate). Flatmate N and Flatmate T (a new addition to the blog, as A's just moved into a different flat in the East End with his old flatmate and another friend) were also fans, and obliged us by having a piece as well, with Flatmate T complimenting us on the texture - soft, light and spongy, but with a bit of stodge too thanks to the Greek yoghurt.




Here's the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 175g softened butter , plus extra for greasing
  • 500ml tub Greek yogurt (you need 100ml/3.5fl oz in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 300g jar good lemon curd (you need 2 tbsp in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 3 eggs
  • zest and juice 1 lemon, plus extra zest to serve, if you like
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 200g punnet of blueberries
  • 140g icing sugar 


And here's how you make it:

  1. Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with a long strip of baking parchment. Put 100g yogurt, 2 tbsp lemon curd, the softened butter, eggs, lemon zest, flour and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl. Quickly mix with an electric whisk until the batter just comes together. Scrape half into the prepared tin. 
  2. Weigh 85g blueberries from the punnet and sprinkle half into the tin, scrape the rest of the batter on top, then scatter the other half of the 85g berries on top. Note: we actually doubled up the amount of blueberries, and would recommend doing so too; the flavour was fuller. 
  3. Bake for 1 hr 10 mins-1 hr 15 mins until golden, and a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.
  4. Cool in the tin, then carefully lift onto a serving plate to ice. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough lemon juice to make a thick, smooth icing. Spread over the top of the cake, then decorate with lemon zest if you like.

Delicious!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Kopapa: An Excellent Brunch

Ever the trendies (haha - we wish), A and C have been checking out some pretty fashionable eateries of late, one of which is the excellent Kopapa

Be warned: this post will be full of us gushing about how great this place is. If you don't have time to read all of it, here's the take-home message: GO HERE. It's really rather brilliant, and we're kicking ourselves for only having discovered it recently.



Kopapa is a kiwi cafe and restaurant in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden and, while they do have a full menu, the place is perhaps best known for its innovative and delicious weekend brunches, which they serve from 09:30 to 16:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. While you can just pitch up and get a table, this can't be guaranteed, and booking is probably advisable. Undeterred, we rolled in at about one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon after a spot of shopping in the West End to find that happily, another couple had just finished and there was a table with our name on it (so to speak).

Kopapa itself has a really nice vibe: it's the sort of place that lots of yuppies and creatives flock to, though these aren't the annoying oh-check-out-my-fashion-fanzine-about-vintage-Bolivian-cloggs types that you get in Shoreditch or Dalston. Rather, the people who were frequenting Kopapa on our visit looked like young record label execs, PR professionals and weekend city boys (so basically, people like us, except cooler), who go for excellent brunches. The place is perhaps a few pounds a head too expensive for hipsters, too, but we thought it was worth it - we were very happy campers, at least.



Simply put, the food at the place is absolutely outstanding.

A went for the Chorizo hash with 2 fried eggs, rocket, sriracha chilli sauce & crispy shallots and, while red and white mush is not usually what one goes for at breakfast-time, the results were excellent. The flavours of the sausage, herbs and potato were finely tuned, and the eggs were done to perfection. The yolks seeped through the mixture, imparting a wonderful richness to the rest of the dish. A was very satisfied.


C's not much of a one for savoury breakfasts generally (the exception being a good fry up or an amazing Duck Eggs Benedict), so she opted for the spiced banana French toast with grilled bacon, orange blossom labne, tamarind raisin relish & orange vanilla syrup. Was it as good as it sounded? Yes, without a doubt. Although it wasn't perhaps the prettiest-looking brunch (see above for evidence), don't be put off by this - it was divine. Banana is flavour of the month for C right now, and she couldn't have been happier with the spiced French toast version of it, while the bacon was crispy (and just on the right side of too much so) and contrasted the sweet flavours brilliantly. While her dish bore no resemblance at all to A's choice, it's fair to say C was just as happy.

A tea and coffee rounded off a lovely meal and, as so often with our weekend food excursions, we left satisfied and would heartily recommend a visit. There are many good brunch places in London, but Kopapa has to be one of the absolute best.